An important change that happened in the way Jesus’ disciples thought about their relationship with God compared to the rest of the Jews was their freedom from religious regulations. After sharing a meal with some of the outcasts of Jewish society, Jesus was asked, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?” (Mark 2:18). This question was intended as a criticism of Jesus’ leadership and showed that the freedom his disciples experienced was perceived to be sinful behavior. Taking it a step further, Mark said about Jesus, “And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?” (Mark 2:23-24). These two incidents captured the paradigm shift that began to take place almost immediately after Jesus’ ministry started. Jesus’ response to the criticism he received was his first attempt at explaining a key aspect of Christianity; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the action by which God takes up permanent residence in the body of a believer in Jesus Christ. Jesus used two common staples of Jewish life to illustrate this concept. He said, “No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles” (Mark 2:21-22). The old garment and old bottles could have represented the nation of Israel; and the new cloth and new wine, the gospel message Jesus brought to God’s people. Likewise, the old garment and old bottles could have represented individuals such as the scribes and Pharisees that were unable to receive salvation because they weren’t able to let go of their religious traditions. But, more than likely, Jesus was referring to the sinful human heart as the old garment and old bottles that would tear or burst if God were to try and take up residence there.
The prophet Jeremiah said of the sinful human heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). In the discourse in which he stated, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), the LORD directed his people to “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed: and make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31). Later, in a prophecy to Israel, God said through the prophet Ezekiel, “A new heart also will I give you: and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Jesus’ presence on earth and constant fellowship with his disciples was only a foretaste of what would be possible after his death. Although it wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven that his followers were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), all those who believed and were baptized were “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6); meaning they were given a new heart that enabled them to discern spiritual truth.